Authors: Jordan Rivet
© 2015 by Jordan Rivet
Edition: August 2015
rights reserved. This e-book may not be reproduced, distributed or transmitted
in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain
other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. Thank you for respecting
the hard work of this author.
Jordan Rivet at [email protected]
To receive discounts on new releases,
please sign up for Jordan
Rivet's email list.
a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of
the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric
purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses,
companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Design by James at GoOnWrite.com
Layout and Design ©2013 - BookDesignTemplates.com
for sticking with me
about, in reel and rout
death-fires danced at night
water, like a witch’s oils,
green and blue and white.
―SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
Simon ran his fingers
through the dirt. Sand and
soil broke apart at his touch, releasing the
smell of coastal earth. He had discarded his gardening gloves to get a better
grip on a particularly tough weed. The soil was warm, matching the early-morning
California sun on the back of his neck.
Sweat dripped onto the dirt as Simon twisted the weed, working it out
of the ground. He grumbled genially, but he was grateful for the way this
small, green problem took his mind off the woman in the house.
The earth rumbled. It was a gentle shaking, no more violent than
driving his coughing, elderly Mazda over potholes. Simon put his palms flat
against the ground
the earthquake subsided.
He looked up at the house, a 1960s bungalow. It was a squat, unassuming
old home, and when he’d moved to San Diego a few years ago, an untenured
history professor with a wife and two young daughters, it was all he could
afford. It was sturdy, though, all the windows still intact after the quake.
The screen door squeaked open, then closed with a bang.
“Daddy! Mom says to come in now. You need to take me to school.”
Simon’s younger daughter, Esther, had her dark hair tugged into messy
pigtails. Since turning six a few months ago, she’d been wearing a Thomas the
Tank Engine T-shirt she got for her birthday almost every day. His wife had
bought an identical Thomas shirt to keep Esther happy when the other one needed
to be washed. And it needed to be washed nearly every day. Esther was forever
digging, climbing, and spilling. Simon suspected she was messier than all the
boys in the first grade combined. But
she wasn’t fooled by
the replacement shirt
. “It smells different, Daddy,” she’d say.
Simon resumed his work on the weed. “I’m not taking you to school
today, button. It’s Mommy’s turn.”
to the dentist,” Esther said.
Simon felt a twinge of irritation. “I have a meeting at eight thirty.
Tell your mother . . .” Simon stopped abruptly. They may be going through a
rough patch in their marriage, but he and Nina had sworn never to argue through
their children. He brushed the earth off his hands and followed Esther inside.
“Did you feel the earthquake, button?” he asked as the screen door
banged behind them.
“Yeah! Mommy said I still have to go to school, though. It’s not fair.
doesn’t have to go.”
“But you like school.”
“It’s okay, I guess,” Esther said, winding a finger around one of her
“Did something happen? Are those girls picking on you again?”
A brief frown wrinkled Esther’s forehead. “I
find my shoes!”
She darted away down the hallway to the room she shared with her
eight-year-old sister, Naomi, whom Esther still called
Simon figured he’d have to give up his study eventually so the two girls could
have their own rooms. He hoped that was still a few years away. He liked having
a little space for solitude. It was getting hard to find peace in the rest of
Nina was slamming spoons into the dishwasher. She glanced up when Simon
walked into the kitchen, then clattered Naomi’s yellow cereal bowl into the top
rack. Her usual collection of bracelets clicked as they slid along her wrists.
The radio crackled on the counter. Simon wished for the quiet of his garden.
“I have an eight thirty with
said. “I can’t take Esther to school.”
Nina stared daggers at the kitchen sink. “I have to take Naomi to the
dentist this morning. I told you last week.”
“Can’t you drop Esther on the way?”
“It’s the specialist across town. We’ll be cutting it close as is.”
Simon leaned against the cool tile counter. The radio anchor was
talking about the earthquake. Not much damage.
aftershocks than usual.
Something about Wyoming.
Simon turned down the volume.
“Can you reschedule?”
“They’re booked for months.”
“Just tell him no,” Nina snapped. “You can’t keep hopping to his
“He’s the department chair,” Simon said. He felt the jolt of anxiety
that always accompanied any mention of his boss lately. “If I’m ever going to
“I know.” She cut him off. “Please, I don’t have time to listen to the
and his choke hold on the history
once.” Nina dried her long, thin hands on a periwinkle towel.
It’s not that simple
, Simon thought.
I can’t miss out on tenure. Not again.
Money was only getting tighter as the kids got older.
“Did you hear back from insurance about that dental specialist?” he
asked. “This isn’t the best month for this. The car—”
“Don’t start. I’ll take an extra shift on Saturday.” Nina tossed the towel
onto the counter.
“No, don’t do that,” Simon said. Nina had been taking extra shifts at
the hospital too often lately. He hated that she had to compensate by working
harder as his career stalled worse than the Mazda. Nothing made him feel more
like a failure. Some of the heat went out of Simon’s voice. “Doesn’t Esther
have a birthday party at the
’ this weekend
that you were planning to help chaperone? You haven’t been able to hang out
with Valerie much lately.”
Nina swept a hand through her dark hair, her bracelets clattering. “I
was looking forward to seeing her. But Simon, we need to do something about the
car, and the specialist can’t wait. We need the money.”
“I’ll try to fix the car myself. That YouTube tutorial worked well
enough last time.”
“Get Esther to help you,” Nina said. “That will make her happy.”
Simon laughed. “Pretty soon she’ll be fixing the car by herself. She
could be making her own video tutorials in a few years.”
Nina smiled. The morning sun touched the side of her face. “I’m sorry
for snapping, babe. I’ve been so frazzled lately.”
Simon drew close to her. “Hey, it’s okay. I’ve been kind of a grump
too. This stuff with Mort . . .” He put his arms around Nina’s waist and
smelled her apple blossom perfume. It reminded him of when they’d sit beneath
the apple trees by the university greenhouse and study together. God, she was cute.
can wait. I’ll take Esther to
school—like I said I would. You have a good time with Valerie on
Saturday, and on Sunday let’s go out. We’ll get a sitter to watch the kids.”
She sighed and leaned into him. “Chinese food?”
“Yes, ma’am.” They swayed in the kitchen, pretending for a moment that
the pressures of their too-busy lives didn’t exist.
The voice on the radio was a hum, barely distinguishable from the buzz
of a car driving past the kitchen window.
turned off the alarm at exactly 7:42 a.m. She rolled out of bed and strode to
the desk, four steps away. She tapped her laptop sharply to wake it. As the
screen lit up, she heard her roommate, Sonya, open the front door of the
apartment, home from the night shift at the twenty-four-hour bagel café at
their university. Judith and Sonya rarely saw each other, which suited Judith
just fine. She avoided distractions whenever possible.
She brought up her email and opened the folder labeled “Alumni
Contacts.” She read the email again, probably for the hundredth time. She’d had
it memorized by the fifth read, of course.
We are pleased to invite you
to interview for the Junior Analyst position at Gilbertson & Cob. The VPs
were impressed with your
. It’d be nice
alum on the team. Please find the
interview details below.
Judith smiled. This was it. She was on track to graduate summa cum
laude in just over a month—and if the interview went well today, her
dream job would be waiting.
A news alert blinked on her laptop dashboard, but Judith ignored it. No
distractions. Today she would focus. She’d already planned out her answers to hundreds
of possible interview questions. She was president of three different
extracurricular clubs, including Future MBAs and the Honors Society. Last
summer she’d aced an internship at a prestigious Silicon Valley tech company,
walking away with her best recommendation letter yet. Gilbertson & Cob
would be stupid not to hire her.
She stood and smoothed the iron-gray suit hanging from a hook on her
bedroom door and picked a tiny piece of lint off the sleeve. The earth rumbled.
The floor shuddered beneath her and the suit swung back and forth, making the
hook creak against the
. Judith gripped the
doorknob, her other hand steadying the suit until the shaking stopped.
“You okay in there, Judith?” Sonya called.
“Fine. It was a small one.”
Judith went to the dingy kitchen to make her morning protein smoothie.
Sonya stood by the counter wiping up milk that had slopped over the side of her
cereal bowl. She smelled of espresso beans and sour cream.
“Bad omen, don’t you think?” Sonya said.
“The earthquake. Don’t you have an interview today?”
Judith pulled her bag of flaxseed down from the tacky yellow cupboard.
She couldn’t wait to move into a sleek starter apartment, probably uptown
somewhere. She let Sonya’s voice wash over her.
“I was listening to Silas B’s night show at work. Apparently there’ve
been way more earthquakes than usual all over California for the last two
weeks—mostly small ones, but still.”
Sonya carried her cereal bowl to their folding card table and pushed aside
her dinner plate from the night before. Judith’s side of the table was clean.
“Well then, it probably doesn’t have anything to do with my interview,”
“None of the major media outlets are talking about it, though,” Sonya
said. “That’s why we haven’t heard about it more.” She pushed a spoonful of
cereal into her mouth.
“Is that right?” Judith said.
I wear the black pumps or the gray ones to the interview? The black ones have a
more stable heel, but the gray ones are the perfect shade.
Sonya kept chattering while Judith assembled her smoothie.
“Silas B thinks the government’s
covering something up. Like maybe the Big One’s coming, and they don’t want
people to panic.”
.” Judith turned on the blender. If Sonya
said anything more, her voice was drowned out by the noise. No distractions.
At exactly 8:13, Judith closed the apartment door. She stretched on the
doorstep, limbering up her slim runner’s legs. The sun was mellow, drifting
slowly higher above the pastel San Diego buildings. Judith tightened her
ponytail and jogged briskly out of the apartment complex. As she turned into
her normal route, she noticed that traffic seemed a bit slower than usual.
She’d factor that in to her departure time later.
Judith went over her interview answers as she jogged. She had to be
perfect. She’d never really doubted that she’d be successful, but she had to
make sure her future colleagues recognized her potential too. She would make
the most of the two, maybe three years she’d work there before going on to get
her MBA. She would be the ideal candidate of course. She was confident that
everything would go according to plan. She’d worked too hard to accept anything
The traffic hummed as Judith jogged along the sidewalk. It was already
warm. The smell of the sea mixed with exhaust and warm concrete. Other runners
passed her, but she kept her pace slow and easy until exactly 8:28. When she
reached North Harbor Drive, she started to run.
was late and the car wouldn’t start. Simon gripped the wheel and leaned his
forehead against it. The clock on the dash was the only thing in the car that
still worked reliably. 8:13 a.m. He would definitely miss his meeting with
, and now Esther was going to be late for school too.
He tried the key in the ignition one more time and got only a choking,
sputtering death rattle.
“I can fix it, Daddy,” Esther chirped from the backseat. “I helped last
“Yes, you did, button. I don’t think we have time to do it before
school, though. I’ll have to explain what happened to Mrs.
Nina and Naomi had already left in Nina’s little Honda, the same car
she’d been driving since college. He’d managed to steal a kiss before she
dashed out the door, but he knew their problems were far from over.